Big trees. A lot of really big trees. When you go to Sequoia National Park, that is what you will see. And, to be candid, not a whole lot else. There are a variety of hikes, from paved little trails to all day adventures (the quick but steep trek up the 'stairs' of Moro Rock was our favorite), a small museum and a visitor center. And while the giant sequoias are absolutely awe inspiring, once you have seen a few the wow factor does begin to fade . After a couple of hours my son, generally a happy hiker, wondered "Are we going to do anything today but look at big trees?"
Luckily, Sequoia shares an east-west boundary with another impressive national park, Kings Canyon. The two play off one another, with the dense forests of Sequoia giving way to the jaw-dropping sheer cliffs and lovely water falls of Kings Canyon. Sitting almost at the border of the two parks in Grant Grove Village, which has a visitor center, restaurant, small grocery store and Ranger Station. Lodging options include a camp ground, a cluster of small, basic cabins or for those who prefer a few more creature comforts, John Muir Lodge. We opted for the cabins which, as our guide book said, are one step up from camping. They do have electricity, a small desk, two double beds and your own covered patio with a picnic table and nifty little outdoor stove.
California is a state of micro-climates, and these parks are no exception. As Grant Grove is at an elevation of about 6000 feet, temperatures were lovely. However, at either end of the two parks, it can be a different story. Entering Sequoia at the Foothills Visitor Center, the car dashboard read 104 degrees at 4pm - not exactly hiking weather. And, after a night up at Grant Grove we descended into the Canyon, losing about 3000 feet in altitude and gaining about 15 degrees in temperature. Taking the time to follow Kings Canyon Scenic Byway almost to Road's End is well worth the drive. A stop at Zumwalt Meadows made us feel we were in a mini Yosemite, but without all the people. We hiked two miles to the Roaring River Falls and saw a grand total of one other group (and one baby bear cub!) the entire time. We also stopped at Cedar Grove Lodge for some picnic supplies - from our quick stop not a place I would recommend for either eating or accommodations. Although other stops - including Grant Grove and Lodgepole - offer better food selection, your best bet, for both price and variety, is to load up on supplies before you even enter the park.
After a hot day on the trails, Hume Lake offered a welcome respite. One end of the lake is very busy, as there is a large, private camp. We drove a bit father and took a short path down to a shady spot at the far end of the lake, where our boys had a great time swimming, jumping off logs and exploring on the rocks.